Advocates for Maine's public campaign financing program say the court order that forced the LePage administration to release more than $1 million owed to qualified candidates also resolves a drafting error that's frozen millions more for the Clean Elections program.
The Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is the group that successfully sued the administration when Gov. Paul LePage single-handedly attempted to withhold more than $1 million for the program by refusing to sign routine financial orders.
And on Thursday, John Brautigam, an attorney for the group, says he will try to convince four sitting members of the Maine Ethics Commission that the same order by Superior Court Judge William Stokes applies to another $3.5 million already budgeted to the Clean Elections program but unable to be dispersed because of a drafting error in last year's budget law.
Brautigam says Stokes' order made it clear that the Clean Elections program is different from most other state programs because money sent to it is for the specific purpose of funding qualified candidates, and that the Ethics Commission, which administers the program, does not need the governor's final approval.
"We think that logic all applies to the situation with the so-called drafting error," Brautigam said. "That drafting error is actually not as consequential as people think it might be. The Ethics Commission has the funds, the money is there and they have the authority to use it," Brautigam said.
The so-called drafting error has been a source of tension in the Legislature for months and one of several issues that has prevented lawmakers from adjourning from a special session called earlier this summer.
Brautigam hopes he can convince the Ethics Commission to vote to approve the disbursement of the funds. And if he isn't, he says his group will seek further clarification from the court.
The Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday at noon to consider his request.